South Texas Trophies

Once again, big bucks seemed to be popping out of the South Texas brush everywhere last season. Here's a closer look at hunts that produced some of the finest trophies. (December 2005)

When Leighton Wier first saw this La Salle County 6x6, he thought the buck might score 160. It was far bigger -- 185 3/8 gross!
Photo courtesy of Leighton Wier

Epic: That might be the most appropriate way to describe the 2004-05 white-tailed deer season in South Texas, a season that by all accounts was just about as good as deer hunting can possibly get.

Thanks to lush range conditions brought on by 2004's abundant rainfall, many monster bucks fell last deer season, and of those, quite a few were entered into the 2004-05 edition of the Texas Big Game Awards program in Region 8.

With that in mind, here's a closer look at some of those Brush Country monster bucks and the hunters who took them.

JOHN B. SMART

La Salle County Non-Typical

216 2/8 Gross, 210 4/8 Net

To kill a world-class whitetail -- even in South Texas -- you and the deer have got to have the right mix of ingredients: genes, nutrition, age, time on stand, and a little bit of old-fashioned luck.

Add all of those ingredients up and once in a great while, the Brush Country buck of a lifetime will step out into a sendero to test your ability to steady the cross hairs. When Fulshear's John B. Smart, who's been deer hunting since he was 11, walked onto a familiar piece of ground last October, managed lands deer permit in hand, he got that opportunity.

After spending six hard days of hunting the Wright Ranch, the 63-year old Smart found himself wrestling with an interesting scheduling conflict as he tried to tag a massive buck known only by its brief late-summer appearance on video.

"I told ranch manager Richard Hurt, 'I have company coming from (out-of-state) tomorrow, and I think I'll blow tomorrow off and get back after him next week," Smart said.

To which Hurt replied, "You know, my wife was sitting on the back of the property yesterday and she saw a big deer with two broken tines. I'd hate to get this deer all busted up."

To which Smart answered, "I'll think about it."

On the drive home, Smart did just that, eventually making plans to return the next day. With apologies extended for this obvious pun, that was a smart decision!

After a sweltering day of hunting, Smart found himself left with mere minutes of daylight when the massive buck arrived on the scene. "There were about 35 to 40 deer feeding on the field, and all of a sudden, they all turned and looked," Smart recalled. "Every one of those deer froze and watched the spot in the brush where this deer was about to come out. It was pretty obvious that something was about to happen."

Indeed it was: Smart and Hurt saw the tops of a big set of antlers coming through the brush. "It took only about 10 seconds to look him over and make sure he didn't have any broken tines," said Smart.

The shot from Smart's Browning A-Bolt .270 Short Mag. was a good one, and the hunter put his tag on a buck that suffered no ground shrinkage at all. "The closer I got to him, the bigger he got," Smart remarked with a laugh. "He's a great deer."

That's an understatement: The Smart buck sports 16 points and scores of 216 2/8 inches gross and 210 4/8 inches net, numbers that rank the deer as the top non-typical buck in Region 8 last year.

"My feet didn't touch the ground for a month," Smart said. If you're a deer hunter, you can understand why.

LEIGHTON A. WIER

La Salle County Typical

185 3/8 Gross, 178 2/8 Net

Having hunted deer since he was a teenager, San Antonio's Leighton A. Wier thought he'd just about seen it all in the Brush Country.

And perhaps he had -- until Nov. 27 last year, that is. That's when Wier found himself looking at a familiar deer with a big set of antlers.

Despite the buck's headgear, Wier wasn't sure if he should pull the trigger on the whitetail, a deer easily recognizable because of a distinctive feature that the deer-hunting dentist described as a "brown streak that ran all the way through his belly.

"I've been watching this deer for several years, actually," he explained. "From our videos, you could go back and find him all the way back to when he was a fawn. I had followed him all the way up to last year when he was 7 1/2 years old."

Thinking that the deer might only score in the mid-160s, Wier studied it carefully, his .308 Winchester Model 70 nearby. Finally, after careful deliberation in the clear South Texas dawn, the hunter decided that it was high time to take this buck.

"When the sun finally got up, I could see through my scope and I waited for him to turn," Wier said. "When he got into position, I shot and I dropped him like a sack of potatoes. He never moved."

A few moments later, Wier was on the move toward a buck that most hunters can only dream of taking. "I've had so many disappointments when I've walked up on bucks before, but this one didn't have any ground shrinkage. He looked pretty darn good. I didn't realize how good he was, I guess, until we took him into the barn and weighed him. He field-dressed at 188 pounds!"

In fact, the deer proved to be not only the heaviest buck ever tagged on Wier's hunting property, but also the biggest-antlered whitetail ever harvested there, too. Needless to say, it didn't take Wier or his hunting buddies long to discover that fact with the aid of a tape measure.

"When I rough-scored him and got 180-something, I really thought I must have misadded," Wier said. "I went back and checked my figures and thought, 'My gosh -- this deer was more than we thought he was!'"

Indeed he was. Sporting an official TBGA score of 185 3/8 inches gross and 178 2/8 inches net, the Wier buck was good enough to rank as the fourth-best typical reported in Region 8 last year.

What will Wier do this fall for an encore as he hunts the La Salle property for the 23rd straight year?

"Realistically, I'll probably take a lot of video and pictures this year," he chuckled. "But if the right deer steps out, I'm available."

FRANK J.

TILICEK III

Maverick County Non-Typical

197 4/8 Gross, 192 2/8 Net

When you hunt big whitetails in Deep South Texas, you really don't expect the action to crank up until after Thanksgiving Day.

This is exactly why Schulenberg resident Frank J. Tilicek III was sitting in a deer stand on Nov. 19, trying to help his nephew Darren Edner collect a management buck.

A veteran deer hunter, having hunted since the age of 10, the now-48-year-old Tilicek knew better than to leave his .270 Winchester behind; however, when it comes to deer hunting, you just never know.

"I had just gone to my stand and had my nephew with me and this deer just happened to come out," Tilicek recalled. "It was the first time I had seen him since the season before."

When Tilicek -- who began to seriously pursue South Texas trophies in the mid-1980s -- got his crosshairs on the buck, the decision to pull the trigger was a no-brainer. "I looked at him and decided to take him," Tilicek said. "He was so big, I didn't have to think about it very long."

At the shot, the 15-point buck staggered and took off. A short while later, Tilicek and his nephew followed a short trail to the buck. After celebrating and exchanging backslaps, the hunters tagged the buck, field-dressed him, and took him back to camp.

"That's when we sat down and methodically rough-scored him," Tilicek said. "It really didn't dawn on me until we scored the deer and added it all up what I had."

What he had was a low-fence non-typical 9x6 buck bearing a score of 197 4/8 inches gross, and 192 2/8 net -- good enough for fifth place in the Region 8 rankings.

"I don't ever expect to kill a better one," Tilicek said.

JOHN FRIESENHAHN

Atascosa County Typical

184 5/8 Gross, 177 5/8 Net

Most days, 41-year-old deer hunter John Friesenhahn has plenty to be thankful for, including his family.

But last Thanksgiving Day, after a hunt on a 22,000-acre El Ranch in Atascosa County, it's possible that the San Antonio resident had just a little bit more to be thankful for -- as in a huge 10-point typical whitetail with a couple of kickers!

On the first day of Friesenhahn's hunt on property managed by Lew Thompson, the hunter was sharing a blind with guide Clay Applewhite. Late in the day, the pair heard what appeared to be a couple of bucks fighting in the brush -- except that it was far too early for a South Texas peak-rut battle royale!

"After a while I thought, 'Gosh! It's coming through the brush!'" Friesenhahn said. "He came up to a feeder and cleared everything out. He ate around for a little while -- it was very picturesque."

First day or not, Friesenhahn couldn't pass up this buck! After waiting until he was presented with a good shot opportunity, the hunter steadied the cross hairs of his Ruger .280 and finally unleashed the bullet.

"He ran about 60 yards to the edge of some blackbrush," Friesenhahn recalled. "We waited a little while and walked over and I just couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe the mass he had. His G-2s, his G-3s and his G-4s; his great tine length -- it was just a good deer."

And then some: The Friesenhahn buck sports an official TBGA score of 184 5/8 inches gross and 177 5/8 net, making it the fifth-best typical buck reported in Region 8 last year.

PAT C. BUTLER

La Salle County Typical

182 2/8 Gross, 174 1/8 Net

Most South Texas big-deer stories start out from a tripod stand, a tower blind, a mesquite patch, or a prickly pear flat. But that's not the case with Natalia deer hunter Pat C. Butler, whose 2004 big-buck story comes straight from -- the front porch!

"He always came out to what I call the 'porch feeder,'" Butler explained. "In my camp, I like to sit out on the porch, and I have a feeder 150 yards away."

After watching one particular big buck visit that feeder for five years, Butler and his son decided last autumn that it was high time to remove the South Texas giant from the gene pool on the property that they own and manage.

The only problem, Butler ruefully admitted, was that his first shot went a little bit awry, enabling the buck to escape his grasp on that misty November morning.

A bit later in early December, the 65-year-old Butler got his opportunity for redemption: The buck reappeared at the porch feeder. This time, the shot from his Browning .30/06 solid, the deer was dispatched for good.

"When I walked up to him, I was absolutely amazed at the size of this deer's horns," Butler said.

That bewilderment is certainly understandable, because the Butler buck sports a TBGA score of 182 2/8 inches gross and 174 1/8 net, making it the seventh-best typical from Region 8 during the 2004-05 season.

JERRY GRIFFIN

Webb County Typical

179 7/8 Gross, 172 6/8 Net

There's little doubt that 64-year-old deer hunting veteran Jerry Griffin and, indeed, his family are on a pretty good hunting run on their 18,000-acre Webb County lease.

After Griffin took a 172-inch non-typical from the property the year before -- the same year that his granddaughter killed a 168 5/8-inch buck on the ranch -- the Sour Lake deer hunter's family was back for more in 2004.

And more -- as in trophy bucks -- is exactly what the family got. First, Griffin himself started things off by taking a 14-point early in the 2004-05 season that scored 170 gross and 166 net. Next, his grandson -- a forward for the University of Denver ice-hockey team -- took a whopper 8-point buck that stretched the tape to 152 inches.

Last up, in early December, Griffin anchored the home stretch of the season by taking a whopper typical 6x6 main-frame buck with two kicker points. "I had watched him for two hours through the brush and looking at him through a scope. They kind of grow on you in the scope, but shrink on the ground," Griffin observed.

Viewed after the shot from Griffin's Browning .270, however, this buck suffered no ground deflation. "He was a little bigger than I thought he'd go," Griffin noted. A little bigger to the tune of a TBGA typical score of 179 7/8 inches gross and 172 6/8 net -- good enough for eighth place in Region 8 last year!

"I've had a good last two years," the retired Griffin said, chuckling.

Amen to that!

JOHN MEYER

Webb County Typical

175 5/8 Gross, 171 7/8 Net

John Meyer certainly believes in the power of prayer -- even when he's deer hunting.

After witnessing that power fi

rsthand as his wife recovered from cancer last year, he again found himself seeking divine intervention last Dec. 18.

What petition did Meyer send heavenward as he strode the 22,000-acre Webb County lease? That he'd see the 10-point buck that he'd passed on earlier in the day. As his tiring nine-day hunt began to wind down, the 46-year-old Floresville resident didn't know that his wife and a nephew in Nebraska were offering similar prayers for big-buck success.

"Psalm 34:7 says that if we'll delight ourselves in the Lord, he'll give us the desires of our hearts," Meyer said. "I really believe that."

Later that evening, all three prayers were answered when the big 5x5 typical walked back out in front of Meyer, allowing him to steady the cross hairs and pull the trigger on his 7mm Remington.

Just 15 minutes later, Meyer found himself standing over a low-fence Booner and uttering a prayer that many other South Texas hunters voice last year -- a prayer of thanks.

"I don't know why I didn't shoot that morning," Meyer said, "but he was better than I thought. It was a God thing all the way around."

After the sizzling big-buck season of 2004-05, there are a lot of South Texas deer hunters who couldn't agree more with you, John!

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